The Case for Meeting Ear-to-Ear & Face-to-Face
Communication via text will save time on meetings, right?
The tools certainly are available—smartphones, tablets, e-readers, etc. And the process would give back to workers some of the time so many seem to believe is wasted in meetings.
Moreover, in a world of digitized communications, viewed from any angle we choose—a big screen on the desktop to a small one in the palms of our hands—aren’t the eyes the most efficient way to consume information? After all, despite fears to the contrary, at least one study revealed the number of people who read tripled from 1980 to the late 2000s.
In fact, some research indicates onscreen skimming favors an arguably more effective way to devour content. In his 2005 study, Ziming Liu of San Jose University wrote: “Screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively.”
Text-based communication tends to lack nuance and is impersonal
So, why not leave all the back and forth in an organization to the written word—without all the hassle of coming together, dialing in or logging on? Because we all know important nuances will be missed.
“If you word-spot James Joyce, you’ll miss the entire experience,” Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf told Fast Company for a recent article about the differences between reading on paper and reading on screens.
And a big part of that “experience” for business people is getting to know and understand each other—whether the interaction is worker-to-supervisor, leader-to-teammate, peer-to-peer or all three rolled into one session. And when you learn how to best work with people, it enables collaboration and fosters productivity.
A recent piece in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) underlines the importance of nuance in meetings between managers and employees: “Listening with a keen ear and observing with a sharp eye can make all the difference in understanding, not just labeling, your manager’s communication style.”
Face-to-face meetings offer more flexibility
Face-to-face, ear-to-ear interaction with your manager (or coworker, really) in meetings—whether in person, in an audio conference or online—has an exploratory dynamic that textual communications lack, as this excerpt from the HBR post elaborates:
“Whatever your manager’s preferred style of interaction, you’ll probably need to do a little investigating to figure it out. Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Is my manager a listener or a reader? Listeners want to hear information first and read about it later. Readers prefer to see a written report before discussing it with you.
- Does she prefer detailed facts and figures or just an overview? If she thrives on details, focus primarily on accuracy and completeness; if she prefers an overview, emphasize the clarity and crispness of the main idea.
- How often does she want to receive information? Your manager may always want to receive updates at specified junctures or she may have different thresholds for each project, such as daily reporting on critical endeavors and periodic updates on secondary initiatives.”
Conversations are more dynamic and productive when face-to-face
In the case of leader-to-teammate interactions, meetings provide a platform for what management guru Dan Rockwell believes is one of the most critical aspects of business leadership.
“Fascinating leaders ask questions. The rest are dullards,” Rockwell wrote in a recent post to his Leadership Freak blog. “Leaders who don’t ask questions are uninteresting, short-sighted, self-absorbed, and ineffective. Bores don’t ask questions. Success requires curiosity.”
Relying solely on written communication can dampen that curiosity. A text may seem like instantaneous gratification to the questioner, but that immediacy of answer—verbal or non-verbal—is not guaranteed in the same way as looking someone in the eye and speaking directly and plainly.
But the case for meeting ear-to-ear and face-to-face is not about excluding or deferring the written word, as Sarah Murphy explained in a recent post “3 Ways Email Can Make Meetings More Productive.” Instead, it’s a reminder that, in a digital landscape populated with so many communication channels, smart business people keep their eyes and ears wide open.